6 Affordable Winter Getaways

Get bang for your buck with these snowy or balmy escapes.

Sunset reflects across the snow in Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park.
davidmarxphoto / Shutterstock

Looking to stretch your travel budget? Steer toward these locales, and you’ll be skiing, bicycling, sleighing, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and wine tasting for a song. Bonus, many of these spots are also great places to escape the crowds and see something new.

Calistoga, California

In winter, Napa Valley uncorks several temptations for frugal travelers, including lighter crowds, lower hotel prices, and a few deals. Plus, in January and February, the vineyards burst with cheerful yellow mustard flowers. For a wallet-friendly way to tour wine country, rent bikes from Calistoga Bikeshop (from $45 a day), then pedal the flat, quiet roads. For $75, the Winter in the Wineries Passport gives guests complimentary tastings at participating wineries, free corkage at several restaurants, and discounts at Calistoga hotels, spas, and shops. 

If it’s sunny, rustle up picnic fare at the Calistoga Farmers’ Market on Saturdays or at Sam’s General Store, where they’ll pack your goodies in a wicker basket. If it’s chilly, simmer in Calistoga’s famous hot springs. Golden Haven Hot Springs offers use of their mineral pools gratis for the hour before and the hour after a booked spa treatment. Alternatively, sells limited $80 day passes to Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs. Finally, cozy up at Calistoga Wine Way Inn, where you can snag midweek winter rates from $139.

treats sit on a three tiered tray on a table at English Rose Tea Room in Carefree, Arizona.
Formal Afternoon Tea at the English Rose Tea Room in Carefree, Arizona.
Courtesy English Rose Tea Room

Carefree, Arizona

This arty hamlet backdropped by pristine desert and sculptural boulders feels like a far-flung escape. But the good news is your gas gauge will barely budge if you’re driving from Phoenix. Get into the happy-go-lucky groove by moseying along Easy Street and Ho Hum Drive, perhaps popping into the flowery English Rose Tea Room for a cuppa and the Stoyanov Fine Art Gallery to peruse Southwestern paintings. Invite a slower pace at the Western Hemisphere’s third-largest sundial in downtown’s free botanical garden. 

In ruggedly picturesque Cave Creek Regional Park, rangers regularly lead free hikes to scope out mule deer and javelina or to tour a mine with a fascinatingly deceptive history. Alternatively, amble through the park on horseback with Cave Creek Trail Rides (from $69). Carefree regularly hosts free events such as Third Thursday Art Night and live music every Saturday. And on January 19-21, the Winter Carefree Fine Art & Wine Festival brings together more than 155 juried fine artisans. Tickets cost $5, and wine tasting tickets are $15 and include a souvenir glass.

Lake Mead, Nevada

At the nation’s largest reservoir by volume, abundant sunshine and scenery are free, and the outdoor activities don’t cost the big bucks. Rent a bike from All Mountain Cyclery in Boulder City (from $100) and pedal part of the easy, 34-mile River Mountains Loop Trail, which commands panoramic views of the lake and rippling mountains. At Lake Mead Marina, rent a kayak or standup paddleboard ($25 per hour) to venture to Boulder Islands, spy herons and egrets, and splash in the blue-green water.

At Hoover Dam, take a $30 guided tour to learn about the 726-foot-high structure that created Lake Mead, which now provides water for around 25 million people. In nearby Boulder City—established to house the workers who built the dam—stroll the historic center to soak in the Depression-era atmosphere. Get breakfast at The Coffee Cup Cafe, which starred in Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. For lunch or dinner, dine at the Dillinger, which, despite the name, won’t break your bank, even if you order a gourmet burger topped with baked brie.


Whitefish, Montana

With a population of less than 10,000, this mountain town may be minnow-small, but it boasts outsized charm and abundant, high-caliber activities. Whitefish Mountain Resort—once named the most affordable ski resort in the West—lures locals with its unpretentious hospitality, indie vibe, and lack of lift lines. Lift tickets ($94) include a free small-group skiing tour with a friendly ambassador who will help you find your ideal terrain amidst the 3,000 skiable acres. 

If a slower pace suits your taste, rent snowshoes and head to nearby Glacier National Park. On the McDonald Falls trail, crunch through woodland to a frozen cascade. Back in town, rent cross-country skis from Glacier Nordic Center ($30 for skis, plus $20 for day passes), then glide on the fairways of Whitefish Lake Golf Course. For fun with four-leggeds, go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride with Bar W Guest Ranch ($65). After your frosty adventures, warm up at Tupelo Grille with elk sliders and a flight of Montana-made spirits. (Editor’s note: Tupelo Grille is temporarily closed for renovations through Nov. 24, 2023.)

A woman helps a little girl put her boot back into her snowboard on the slope at Nordic Valley Ski Resort in Ogden, Utah.
Nordic Valley Ski Resort in Ogden, Utah.
Jeremiah Watt

Ogden, Utah

Surrounded by rugged peaks and ample opportunities for powder play, Ogden offers all the merits of a remote mountain town, plus the convenience and cost-savings of its proximity to Salt Lake City. Stroll Historic 25th Street, where the brothels of yore have been transformed into art galleries and boutiques. To learn about local history, visit Union Station, which corrals four museums showcasing cowboys, trains, and classic cars. Fortify yourself for outdoor fun at Pig & A Jelly Jar, famous for its fried chicken and waffles. 

Spanning a whopping 8,464 acres, nearby Powder Mountain is the country’s largest ski resort. So you can schuss and slalom with plenty of elbow room—and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Lift tickets start at $111, and with a new dynamic pricing system, the earlier you book, the more you’ll save. If you prefer more leisurely pursuits, Ogden’s Weber State University rents cross-country skis from $16 and snowshoes from $15. Take your gear to Ogden Nordic Ski Center (day passes from $10) and stride or slide on groomed tracks stretching into gorgeous views of the Wasatch Mountains.

A couple ice skate in Jackson Hole town square in Wyoming.
Ice skate in Wyoming's Jackson Hole town square.
New Thought Media Inc.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Many people associate this Grand Tetons idyll with glamorous resorts and Kardashian sightings. But strategic travelers can slalom away from money pits toward surprising savings. Tucked on the opposite side of the Tetons from Jackson, Grand Targhee ski resort flies under the national radar. But it attracts locals for its warm welcome, reliable 500 annual inches of snow, and uncrowded slopes with spectacular scenery. Lift tickets range from $120 to $150; purchase online in advance for the best rate. You can also rent cross-country skis ($40) or snowshoes ($40) to explore the resort’s groomed Nordic trails through aspen and conifer glades with a Nordic trail ticket for $25 for adults.

Grand Teton National Park regularly hosts free, guided snowshoeing tours, with complimentary snowshoe rental. Rangers regale participants with everything from snow science to winter ecology to park history. And for an enchanting experience, ice skate alfresco on Jackson Hole town square (skate rental runs $18, and hot cocoa or cider are free) or at Teton Village at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (skate rental is $15). For reasonably priced lodging, try Snow King Resort, where guestrooms range from $150-$220 outside of the holidays, or Ranch Inn Motel, where you can land a room for around $159 most nights.